The Vikings game against the Dolphins was another heartbreaker with a fourth-quarter collapse that saw a team that hadn’t led all game to put up 23 points (21 of which one can pin on the defense outright) on three drives—seven points a drive, if we count the one play at the beginning of the quarter that gave the Dolphins a lead.
Most concerning about the collapse might be the way it happened. While it was clear from the broadcast that there were instances of confusion in the second half, Zimmer made the point stark about how the defense fell apart:
Zimmer: “There were times with guys lining up where I didn’t know what they were doing. That’s probably an issue isn’t it?” #Vikings
— Aj Mansour (@AjKFAN) December 22, 2014
#Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on defense: “Worst we played all year. Maybe one of the worst defensive performances I’ve seen in a long time.”
— Brian Murphy (@murphPPress) December 22, 2014
Misalignment is a pretty serious problem, though it’s fair to wonder if the cause is a new player taking on “green dot” duties, wearing the helmet that receives the defensive playcalls. Chad Greenway sat out the second half with a knee injury, and it fell upon Gerald Hodges to relay the plays to the rest of the defense, along with occasional duties to call audibles and redetermine alignment. At times, however, players like safety Harrison Smith may be more responsible for seeing the offense and making adjustments.
While I’m not sure that Gerald Hodges taking the green dot helmet caused the issues, it could be the case. It’s hard to parse this sort of thing from halftime adjustments, but Ryan Tannehill passed for 5.2 adjusted net yards per attempt and Lamar Miller ran for 4.7 yards a carry (5.4 yards a play) in the first half and they improved those marks to 11.8 adjusted net yards per attempt and 5.0 yards a carry, while the Dolphins moved to an astounding 7.5 yards a play.
Three touchdowns in the fourth quarter (and two more in the third) stands in clear contrast to the one touchdown allowed in the first half. A quick review of the broadcast tape in the second half may reveal why. Though the final drive involved a number of blown coverages that were simply the result of talent and technique, there were a number of plays where it seems obvious that misalignment was at fault (and a few others where it could be debated):
Those are only the ones that are easy to identify and in the passing game—a few runs could have come about as a result of bad gap discipline and misalignment (the zone read with Tannehill may be a good example) and a few other completions in the second half could have been at fault; for example the Clay completion above that Xavier Rhodes ends up tackling may have been a mid-play adjustment by him to chase Clay, or it could have been an assignment he badly blew.
Whatever the cause, defenders out of alignment leads to offensive points. The Vikings played terribly, and this may be one reason why.